Tag Archives: Communication

The Complex and Powerful Beauty of Vulnerability

Vulnerability has become quite the buzz word these days. It is considered rather trendy to talk about vulnerability, and even more so to “be” vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to share pieces of yourself that you wouldn’t normally share.  It is shining a bright light on those darker areas of your life.  It can feel kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off a painful, ugly wound.  Bottom-line – vulnerability usually hurts in some way.  But at the same time it acts as a release that can feel incredibly good too.  Shining that light or ripping off that Band-Aid allows you the opportunity to let go of that thing you were working so hard to hide from everyone – once released you can begin to heal and move on.

Dr. Brené Brown is perhaps one of the foremost experts on the topic of vulnerability. If you have ever seen her Ted Talk on vulnerability, then you understand why. She describes vulnerability this way – “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”

And so the catch with vulnerability then is that it requires that you trust the person with whom you are being vulnerable. It is a leap of faith. It is scary and yet freeing at the same time.  To be vulnerable with someone requires a certain amount of courage and it requires letting go of the need to control what people see and think about you.  But if you are able to do that, if you can find a way to be vulnerable with someone, you open the doors to an amazingly beautiful growth opportunity for yourself as well as in your relationship with that person.

But beware the biggest obstacle of them all if you choose to set out on this vulnerability journey – we live in a culture and in a time when we are taught to believe that to be vulnerable is to show weakness, and weakness, of course, is bad. However, as Brené Brown points out, “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” Such a true and important distinction. Treating vulnerability as a negative or bad thing only serves to make people hold on to their stuff more tightly…to continue putting on a façade for the rest of the world rather than being their true selves.  The strength required to be vulnerable is such that many will run away rather than face it.  Truly being vulnerable is one of the utmost signs of strength a person can display.  It is one of the most beautiful things to behold, and as such should be applauded not scoffed at.

Trendy or not, vulnerability is powerful and freeing, so go ahead and give yourself permission to own your story, all of it, and to be vulnerable in the midst of it.

The Bittersweet Taste of Disappointment

Disappointment – the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

We’ve all been there. And that definition just about sums it up perfectly doesn’t it? That feeling of sadness or displeasure all because a hope or expectation comes crashing to the ground.  It’s sobering, frustrating, and even maddening at times.  There’s so much raw emotion wrapped up in that one word – disappointment.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 4 years studying meditation, mindfulness, and, to some extent also, Buddhism.  Interwoven in all of these things is a message of caution about attachment, for it is through attachment that we bring great suffering and misery to ourselves. When we attach ourselves to people, things, ideas, or situations we become very invested in how things progress or turn out between us and those people, things, ideas, or situations.  Of course what we often neglect to remember in the midst of all that is that we can’t control anything or anyone other than ourselves.  And as a result things seldom work out the way we wanted or expected them to turn out.  Hence disappointment.

For me, my study of meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism was an attempt to understand this oh so familiar cycle in my life and to learn how to release my tendency to become so easily and deeply attached in this way. I understand that if I become less attached to people, things, ideas, and situations then ultimately I will be disappointed less often, and in turn be on that emotional roller coaster less frequently. This was a very appealing concept to me.  And so I set about practicing non attachment each day – I meditate, I offer prayers and intentions, and I reflect on my choices and my feelings as they relate to other people, things, ideas, and situations, all in an attempt to attach less and be present more.

Sounds so simple, and in the midst of those daily practices I dare say it even can feel like it is relatively easy. However, life is relentless in its continuous hurling of curve balls. So just when I start to think I’ve got this non-attachment thing down, I find myself in or near a state of disappointment over something.  Grr!  Snagged again!  So, what am I to do?  Well, the healing process I have come to rely on recently is that I first feel the feelings and really look at them and where they are originating from.  Then I acknowledge the attachment I have assigned to the situation – it is important to be honest about that fact that I got attached in some way.  And finally I meditate and offer up prayers and intentions all focused on my continued work on nonattachment.  What I do not do is become angry with the other people involved in the situation – they are not to blame for my attachment.  I also do not berate myself or become angry with myself.  I know those things are not helpful and I also know I am still learning and growing – non-attachment is not easy.

I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I no longer become attached or no longer feel disappointed about things, but I am finding that the journey to reach that point is powerful, filled with amazing growth opportunities, and completely worthwhile.

Say It Softly

As humans, we want and need feedback…suggestions…criticism – call it whatever you want, we ask for it continually.  We crave it yet we cringe or run away when we receive it. We are dying to know what people think of us, our work, our outfit, our hairstyle…you name it, we want to know what people think. But the moment that feedback comes, we often want to curl up in a ball and die because it isn’t exactly what we were hoping for, or worse yet, it is downright mean.  And yet we only grow as people if we face the feedback for what it is. Such a strange relationship we have with feedback.  So convoluted.  So confusing.  So frustrating.

Here’s a recent personal example to further illustrate my point: I asked for feedback on short workshop I recently did and I received quite a bit of feedback from the group of people with whom I worked to put together the event (as I had hoped I would – since we all had worked to put it together I was anxious to hear their thoughts on the final product, delivery, etc.). Most of the feedback was the typical niceties (good job, I think it went well, etc.). Some people mentioned the sound issues we had (while completely valid and quite frustrating, that was unfortunately beyond our immediate control…but helpful feedback nonetheless).  But there one piece of feedback that had an edge to it.  It seemed to be a list of complaints with no acknowledgement for the work that went into it.  It was as if there was nothing good about the whole event.  I wanted to run from that feedback when it came through in my email.  It came across such that it triggered that oh so familiar ego voice in my head which began questioning if I was good enough, if I knew what I was doing, etc..  It was the kind of thing that allowed the ego mind go to town.  And unfortunately I don’t know the person who delivered the feedback well enough to know their true intention, but nevertheless that email got my mind rolling down a dangerous and unhealthy path.

And on some level I also found myself feeling some anger about it. Who was this person to do nothing but complain. They didn’t have to make all the contacts to set all this up.  They didn’t have to deal with old equipment that didn’t work right.  They hadn’t spent hours preparing and practicing.  My mind got stuck cycling between the anger and insecurity I was feeling after reading that email.  I had to force myself to close my email and walk away for a few hours.  Okay…until the next day actually.  I needed to let it go, to give myself time to put it into perspective.  So I went home and meditated on it a bit  (after my mind seemed to fixate on it for a while though).  I needed to distance myself from the content, reflect on what were valid concerns (like the sound issues), what was perhaps an issue of someone not reading previous emails and then complaining that they didn’t know something, and what were areas where we truly could work on and improve.  That time away to reflect, rather than immediately responding to the email, was essential I believe so I could respond in a more loving way.  I needed to do that so I could loving accept the person and the feedback and move forward in a more positive way.

And now, after processing it, I realized one additional thing – I really just want people to say whatever they have to say with a little love. I would prefer they land the plane softly. Otherwise it feels like people assume we intentionally screwed something up, like we went out of my way to do something they didn’t like – which of course is not usually the intention or case.  In reality I believe it’s a communication thing, which is a good thing because that is something that’s fixable moving forward.  It is a learning moment.  But I also realize my desire for people to say it a bit more softly is likely a pipe dream and that in reality I need to hone my skills in the area of personal development so that when I do receive difficult feedback it doesn’t make me want to run and hide.  Perhaps by modeling that which I wish to see others do I will influence some portion of the population to be more gentle and loving with their words.

And so to close today’s blog, I offer a few words of encouragement to those giving feedback – don’t operate from a viewpoint that someone intentionally did it “wrong”, but instead offer suggestions from the heart with the intention that everyone benefits. And to those receiving the feedback – don’t respond to difficult feedback right away, rather give yourself time to process it properly and find a way to respond (if a response is even necessary) that is productive and of service to all involved.

Thinking vs. Feeling Your Feelings

I was recently talking with a friend about the topic of feeling your feelings vs. thinking your feelings. Then I began seeing things on social media these past few weeks on this topic as well. Clearly it is time to write a little something about it.

This is certainly something most, if not all, of us are guilty of doing. I know I have become a super star in the field of thinking my feelings instead of feeling them. I think in many ways we are trained by society to do this…to think our feelings rather than actually feeling them.  First of all, there is no time to stop and feel anything.  There are too many things to do and never enough hours in the day (both personally and professionally), so merely thinking our feelings is much more efficient and fits better with our lifestyle in today’s world.  Plus, to actually feel feelings usually gets translated into you being weak (a common perception we ascribe to people who take the time to feel their feelings).

Thinking your feelings vs actually feeling them is easier, neater, cleaner, and nicer for everyone involved in the process. We just think about them and move on – it is that simple. Feeling them, on the other hand, requires that we get messy and deeply experience emotions we don’t like (pain, loss, sorrow, regret, etc.).  Feeling our feelings can take time and can uncover more things for you to address too.  It just is not convenient or efficient by today’s standards.

In addition to thinking our feelings, we are also quite good at talking about them rather than feeling them. Many people think because they have talked about them they have processed them (and therefore felt them), but that is not necessarily the case. If the talking about the feelings is more of a venting or complaining session then you are not processing/feeling them.  Granted, talking about your feelings may be more of a step toward feeling them than just thinking them is, but you still haven’t felt them in most cases if you are just talking about them.  Talking about them can even help you push them farther away making it harder to be able to feel them.

Feeling them takes time and can be inconvenient in this fast paced, modern world. We are expected to handle things gracefully and not show emotion in many avenues of life. There are such high expectations for all of us (real, imagined,s or self-imposed).  The question to ask is are you just finding ways to cope with your feelings or are you actually allowing yourself to feel them?  Are you getting by without feeling them?  Are you burying them and moving on?  If you are doing any of those things, they are still there.  They haven’t gone away, though we tell ourselves that they have.

“We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” – Jim Morrison

We have to learn to address them for good. If you don’t feel them they get buried deep inside of you and can manifest inside you in the form of an illness or it can negatively impact your life externally via your relationships, etc. We need to feel and process them so they dissipate, otherwise they build up and get worse.

Let them out, express them, feel them, own them, and above all take action. Do something active with your emotions so you can truly feel them and work through them – journal, cry, draw, punch a pillow, etc. Find ways that work for you, but by all means take the time to really, truly feel your feelings.

It may get darker before it gets lighter but real growth and transformation can only come through allowing yourself to feel those feelings inside of you. True light only can come if you let yourself feel your feelings and you work through your stuff.

Boundaries

By definition they are dividing lines, and while not all boundaries are literal lines they all do certainly denote a division of some sort. There are many kinds of boundaries, but the kind I am talking about today are the healthy, personal ones – the ones we have (or at least should have) in our own lives that help us take care of our own selves.

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.“ ― Brené Brown

We need to have personal boundaries for many reasons…to maintain our personal space, to uphold our personal beliefs and morals, as well as to take proper care of ourselves. Healthy boundaries allow us to not only take care of ourselves, but to take better care of others around us as well. And we set a good example to others when you have these healthy boundaries for ourselves.  By setting clear boundaries in our own lives we lead others in the arena of self-care by example.

“You best teach others about healthy boundaries by enforcing yours.” ― Bryant McGill

I am sure you have all heard the airplane oxygen mask analogy – secure your own mask before assisting others with theirs. Why? Because if you don’t it is very likely neither of you will end up with an oxygen mask on.  And there is also the old adage of “nothing pours from an empty pitcher”.  If you are drained, if you don’t care for yourself first and foremost, you will having nothing to give to others no matter how much you might wish to give or be of service to them.  The bottom line is that you can’t help others if not honoring your own needs first.  It really is that simple.

“Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.” ― Christine Morgan

But suddenly having boundaries where there were none before can be problematic, let’s be honest. If you allow your friend to always be late and then suddenly want to hold them accountable to their promised arrival time, or if you always cook or clean or do laundry without assistance despite what your day or week at work has been like and then suddenly expect your spouse or children to help, or if you always allow someone to speak down to you and then suddenly stand up for yourself…you can imagine it isn’t going to go over well. So how to we make that change?  How do we set boundaries with the people in our lives if we have gone for so long without them?  The answer is actually quite simple – you tell them your expectations and boundaries.  That’s right, it comes down to good old fashioned communication.  You honestly explain how you have allowed this for so long but are no longer okay with it being that way, and you tell them why it is no longer okay with you.  When explained gently most people will respect your desire for new boundaries and will work hard to try and meet them.  It’s when we just introduce them without warning or explanation that we often experience difficult resistance.  So as with all things in any relationship, just make sure you communicate it clearly.

“We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or cruel when we speak our truths.” ― Melody Beattie

Boundaries give you permission to live and do things you enjoy while also not giving away all of your power to others. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once said, “Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” Think for a moment about your boundaries with different groups of people – spouse/significant other, children, parents, siblings, neighbors, boss, colleagues, etc.  What do you allow or tolerate that you really aren’t okay with?  What do you wish would change?  Where do you need to do some work on your boundaries?  Where do you need to create boundaries?

Here’s a quick summary of the process that I have personally found helpful for setting boundaries and for sharing them with others:

  1. Think of areas in your life where you currently feel stressed mistreated, etc.. Of those areas, are there any where you would feel better if you set boundaries? For example, if you said no more often or if you stood up for your personal needs or beliefs?
  2. Once you identify the ways in which you can add boundaries, then begin to add those new boundaries into your life. Introducing them one at a time helps both you and those around acclimate to this change.
  3. Explain your new boundaries to the people in your life who will be impacted by them. Use gentle words and be sure to make the explanation about your needs, not about them personally or about something they have done wrong. Making it about your needs helps them understand and in most cases people will respect and support your wishes, while making it about them will put them on the defensive.
  4. Reassess your boundaries often because they will need to change as you and your life change.

Let go of the voices in your head and all the conditioning from childhood that tells you to continually sacrifice everything for others regardless of the impact it has on you. Set boundaries for your life and hold to them. Not only will you feel better as a result of doing so, you will be able to show up in your life and in the lives of others in a more meaningful and impactful way.

“Speak in your own voice about the things that matter to you.” ― Marty Rubin

Meet Me Here, Where I Am

“My readers – and I get 400 emails for a day, my readers normally they say, well, you understand me, and I answer, you do understand me also. We are in the same level.” – Paulo Coelho

How do we get people to meet us where we are?  How do we meet them where they are?  Without judgment, assumptions, or anything else of that nature.  How do we all get to the point where we can meet one another wherever we are?  I have had quite a few conversations recently with numerous people on this topic, and I can’t help but to wonder if other people have this struggle in their lives as well.

Meeting someone where they are requires knowing a little about them, it requires being open-minded, and it requires letting go of assumptions, pre-conceived notions, and judgments.  And sometimes doing that is not so simple for either party involved.  On one hand I want people to know who I am, what I’ve been through, how I feel, that I try hard, that I feel misunderstood, that I don’t feel like I am good enough most of the time, etc.  But then on the other hand, society tells me that people don’t care, that I shouldn’t share this kind of stuff, that all of that doesn’t matter, that I should suck it up and overcome any adversity I am faced with in life, and that I don’t have it bad in comparison to many others.  In short, society is telling us to not even bother sharing our stories.  And I believed what society told me, almost without question, until recently.

What I have come to believe now is that whether those things society tells us are true or not, it doesn’t negate what I’ve been through or how I feel, though it often feels like it does, or is supposed to. We all have different struggles, of that there is no doubt, and we all react to and cope with our struggles in a variety of ways. But it isn’t so much about comparing whose struggles are worse, as much as it is about recognizing we all struggle and then seeing what we can do to help one another where we each are.

There is a tremendous desire within us as humans to have other people know us…know our story.  There are too many assumptions made about us by others and too many assumptions made by us about others.  Again, it’s what we are taught throughout our lives, both consciously and unconsciously, to believe is normal or correct.  As Brene Brown says in her work, we are wired for story as humans, and so when we are faced with the lack of a story, we will make one up, even if it is not true or flattering, whether it is about ourselves or others.  It’s what we do, whether we realize it or not.

Life is about building relationships, but to do that we have to get to know each other and share our stories…certainly not every detail, but we need to share some things. We need to feel heard, understood, and validated. We need to understand from where each of us has come.  We all can get swallowed up in the daily monotony of our own lives – we stop noticing, we stop asking, and sometimes we even stop caring.  But we need to change that.

Most of us have spent so much of life feeling like we can’t get things right, like the cards are stacked against us, that we aren’t good enough in some way, etc. Then we look around and notice those who have it worse than us in some way and we mentally berate ourselves for thinking we had it so bad in the first place. And to make matters worse, sometimes there are others who will do this to us as well.  And so we go back to keeping quiet, continuing to struggle in silence so to speak.  What a vicious, unhealthy cycle.

I’ve spent much of my life trying not to feel, trying not to care, and numbing myself, both because that was what I had learned from society and because it made things easier to deal with, but eventually that stopped being effective for me and an alternative became necessary.  I needed to share where I am, hard as it was to do after keeping it to myself for so long. A hard habit to break for sure, but I knew it was what was necessary to heal and to grow.

We all have stories. We have all struggled. We all have felt unworthy or not good enough in some way.  That is probably one of the great universals among all of human kind in this modern era.  So much of this pain and struggle that we experience can be avoided by just becoming aware of our collective struggles…by getting to know one another even just a little before passing judgment or passing by e another in indifference.  Education and compassion are two of the most powerful tools we have available to us.  Use them for your own sake as well as the sake others.  Meet yourself and others where they are.  Know we are all on this journey called life together.

Seeds Of Doubt

It is pretty rare in nature for seeds to be just lightly scattered on the ground and yet yield a bountiful crop – not being turned into the soil, watered, tended, etc. In order to ensure the seeds take root and grow, someone has to take the time to properly plant them and care for them. That’s how it works in nature.  But when we are talking about our thoughts as seeds, the exact opposite seems to be true.

A thought can be ever so gently lofted out there, by your own inner voice, by someone you know, or by a complete stranger, and within seconds that thought can take hold so strongly that it stays with you for days, weeks, even years. As that thought takes hold we begin to weave a story that explains it…justifies it…makes it true. And by the time we are done weaving our story, we have somehow managed to incorporate components that have absolutely nothing to do with the original thought.

An example – You present a project to you boss that you have been working on for weeks. You are proud of your work and excited to finally share it. After your presentation your boss simply says it was fine and then proceeds to leave for another meeting.  Immediately your mind goes to work on this one word thought/response…and here’s what that ensuing inner dialogue might look like:  “Fine?!?  I worked for weeks on this project.  I gave up my free time.  I gave up sleep.  I gave up time with my family and friends.  My boss has no idea what she is talking about.  She’s an idiot!  My project was awesome!  She has no idea what she has here.  She is lucky to have someone like me working here.  I could work anywhere!  But I don’t…I work here.  And she said my project was fine.  Not good…not well done…just fine.  She didn’t say she liked it…she never even said it was a good idea.  How could I have wasted so much time on this project?  How could I have messed this up so badly.  How do I even still have a job?  I know nothing.  She should fire me.  I’m a failure.”  And what’s worse is that the next project you are given, you have doubts from the very beginning that you can do a good job and, intentionally or not, you end up putting in less time on the new project and/or your focus suffers when you work on the project.  And so consequentially that next project is not as good as the first one you did and the feedback is, once again, less than favorable…launching you into yet another tailspin/inner dialogue.  You may also begin to interact with or treat your boss differently because of this inner dialogue, which could lead to other issues as well.  Can you see how this can become a cyclical mess?

It may seem a bit farfetched, but that’s just because it is a fictitious example. If you reflect back to a time when you actually experienced this, remembering in detail the inner dialogue that was playing, you would recognize the same spiraling pattern. And, going back to the example, notice how much was created as a part of the story that was never truly articulated as fact during actual conversation.  That one word, fine, set things into motion within the mind that quickly spun out of control.  So many of us do this on a regular basis over all sorts of things, both big and small.  Somehow we manage to allow a comment, that we interpret to be negative in some way, to take over our logical, thinking minds and the next thing you know we have come to conclusions such as we are a failure, we are worthless, we are ugly, we are fat, we are stupid, we are pathetic, etc.  It is how we seem to be wired, and the only way to avoid this vicious, unproductive, unhelpful cycle is to consciously guard against it.

It is so incredibly easy for such seeds of doubt to be planted in our minds. We have to work extra hard to ensure we don’t do things to aid in the process. Stopping our minds from going off on some random tangent as it attempts to write the story that it feels best fits the thought in question is so important.  Not always easy to do, but important to do nonetheless.  But how do we prevent one seemingly innocent thought from becoming a black hole of negativity?

Some suggestions:

  1. Breathe – This is always good advice regardless of the situation as it makes us slow down, and gives us time to collect our thoughts, and put things into better perspective.
  2. What if it is true? – Ask yourself, what if it is true? What if, using the previous example, the project was just “fine”? Does it really mean you are a failure and should be fired?  What is the worst thing that can really happen?  Keep it in perspective.
  3. What if the origin of the thought was based on something else entirely? – What if something else was going on in your boss’s world that day? What if the boss had a horrible fight with her husband or child before coming to work that day and she just wasn’t fully present for your presentation? What if her “fine” comment was not indicative of her actual response to your work?
  4. Ask – While not an easy option, sometimes just asking for more detail, more feedback, or more specifics can remove so much of the crazy story our minds want to weave. By asking you might find out that fine is a word your boss uses to mean she really likes it, or that her morning got off to a bad start and her head is just not in the game yet today. Instead of making up the story, try to find out what the story really is.

Keeping our minds from running away with thoughts is no easy task, but it can be done with patience and practice. In the meantime, don’t let the seeds of doubt gain permanent roots in your mind. Keep your perspective, calmly and logically process all possible scenarios, and don’t jump to conclusions.  When possible, seek clarification by asking questions or having conversations.  Don’t let your mind dictate a story to you that isn’t true for you…don’t let those seeds of doubt take root in you mind.